Canada’s residential schools: a destructive curriculum

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VANCOUVER, Aug. 8, 2020 (Xinhua) -- Young people enjoy their social gathering at a park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Aug. 8, 2020. The provincial increase of British Columbia over the last month is overwhelmingly concentrated in young people -- of the 893 COVID-19 cases recorded in B.C. between July 6 and Aug. 6, two-thirds have been in people under the age of 40. The majority are in their 20s. (Photo by Liang Sen/Xinhua)
(Photo by Liang Sen/Xinhua)

by Xin Ping

For most kids, a school is the starting point to embark on a bright, civilized journey of life, but for the indigenous children in Canada, a government-funded residential school may well be the departure station of “the train to Auschwitz,” a gateway to dark, abuse and death.

For more than a century since the 1830s, school-aged children of the indigenous community were snatched from their mother’s arms and corralled in distant residential schools funded by the Canadian government, where they were surveilled by the clergy of the Christian church, barred from family visits, and institutionalized away from their cultural traditions.

About 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children are believed to have fallen victim to the cultural assimilation. In these schools, the children were subject to abuse and torture that scarred both their skin and heart. Some survived to share their horror experiences — in English instead of their native languages for sure, offering a glimpse of the misery the Canadian government inflicted upon the indigenous community.

Some say, the first day in the so-called residential schools marked the last day of their own identity. But those who walked out of the residential schools alive can still be considered as the lucky ones.

There were countless indigenous people who perished in the “schools.” Many names were unable to be retrieved. Some institutions based in Canada estimated that more than 3,000 children died in the “schools.” Former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Murray Sinclair said that some 6,000 children may have never made it home.

Following constant discoveries of unmarked gravesites, the death toll continues to rise. According to the BBC, investigations across Canada have found evidence of more than 1,100 graves since the spring of 2021. No doubt, the number will be even more staggering, although the government has halted some detection work for locating the graves, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s going to be a very tough time … knowing we have unmarked graves in our community, where we walk every day, drive every day,” lamented Chief Lee Kitchimonia of Keeseekoose First Nation.

While the Canadian politicians have been playing sorry and regret in a bid to quell the raging anger from both the Canadian people and the international community, little has been done to remedy the wrong and compensate the victims apart from paying lip service.

From time to time, the Canadian government disappointed people who still believed that the government would face up to its dark history and take responsibility for the atrocities. Politicians balked at admitting the crime as cultural genocide. Institutions set up to facilitate and coordinate fact-finding about the bloody residential schools constantly encountered obstacles and setbacks.

In 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly as a document guaranteeing the rights of Indigenous Peoples to enjoy and practice their cultures and customs, religions and languages, and to be free from discrimination.

Ironically, while a majority of 144 states voted in favor of the bill, Canada was among the only four countries voting against it. Even after the country reversed its initial position to endorsement, it frequently used terms like “aspirational” and “non-binding” in official statements. Experts cautioned that the real attempt of the Canadian government is “to exempt themselves from any legal responsibility to the UNDRIP.”

As a narcissistic country which has been touting itself as a global human rights defender, before pointing the finger at others, Canada should take back its overreaching hand, and exert some deep introspection in front of the graves filled with skeletons of the indigenous children.

(Xin Ping is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for the Global Times, China Daily, etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com)

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